Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson
Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson
|Alma mater||University of California, San Diego|
New York University
|Occupation||Investor and Entrepreneur|
|Net worth||US$2.2 billion|
|Website||http://www.btb.is, http://www.novator.co.uk, http://thorbjorgolfsson.com/home|
Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson (born 19 March 1967 in Reykjavík, Iceland), known internationally as Thor Bjorgolfsson, and colloquially in Iceland as Bjöggi, is an Icelandic businessman and entrepreneur, and former chairman of the financial firm Straumur-Burðarás and chairman of investment firm Novator Partners. As of June 2019, he is the richest person in Iceland and 1,115th richest person in the world according to Forbes. His most valuable holding today through Novator Partners is a share in Polish telecom outfit Play and he has also invested in smaller startups such as the Zwift online platform for indoor cycling as well as the Icelandic MMOG company CCP Games.
Björgólfur was the first Icelander to join Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people in 2005; has been declared "Iceland's first billionaire"; and was ranked as the 249th-richest person in the world by Forbes magazine in 2007—up from 350th the previous year—with a net worth of $3.5 billion. In 2007 the Sunday Times’ Sunday Times Rich List put his net worth at £2,000 million. However, following the financial crisis of 2007–2010, Björgólfur's net worth had declined to $1 billion by March 2009. He worked out a complex deal with his creditors to pay off his debts while holding on to his key investments and on March 20, 2017 Forbes estimated his net worth at $1.81 billion. He published an autobiography in 2014.
Early and family life
Björgólfur Thor is heir to a long family legacy in Icelandic business and politics. His great-grandfather was the legendary Danish-born Icelandic entrepreneur Thor Jensen, who helped introduce industrial capitalism to the country in the early years of the twentieth century. The eighth of Thor's eleven children was Margrét Þorbjörg Thors Hallgrímsson, whose daughter Þóra Hallgrímsson had Björgólfur Thor as her only child by her third husband Björgólfur Guðmundsson. Þóra Hallgrímsdóttir, Björgólfur Thor's mother, was married to George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi party. Björgólfur Thor has often emphasised this, for example by adapting for his company Novator the old logo of Eimskip, which Thor had originally designed for his company Kveldúlfur hf, and through his association with the biographical documentary Thor's Saga by Ulla Boje Rasmussen, which draws parallels between Thor Jensen and Björgólfur Thor.
- His rare self-confidence made him stand out. He was immensely physically strong and bench pressed over 450 pounds. He was an entrepreneur from early on, and by the age of 11 he was delivering newspapers in the early hours of the morning. A year later he was a delivery boy at the University of Iceland and, at 13, was running his own home video delivery service. While still in high school, he was running a nightclub in Reykjavík and organised the first Oktoberfest beer festival in Iceland. After high school, he studied business in New York. Fluent in several languages, and with an unusual ability to both blend in and stand out, he embodied Iceland's internationalism.
In 1986, the firm of Björgólfur Thor's father Björgólfur Guðmundsson, Hafskip, became embroiled in a financial scandal and was bankrupted; the scandal may have arisen from the efforts of Hafskip's main competitor Eimskip and its allied political party, the Independence Party, to reduce competition, and the events had a considerable effect on the young Björgólfur Thor. At times he has presented his subsequent business activities as an effort to regain his and his father's reputations and pay their opponents back. Graduating from the prestigious Commercial College of Iceland in 1987, he followed in the footsteps of some of his siblings and moved to the US, in a move he has portrayed as an attempt to escape an Iceland where he felt an outsider. He began higher education at the University of California, San Diego, later transferring to the Leonard N Stern School of Business at New York University, graduating with a B.S. in Marketing in 1991.
While studying, Björgólfur Thor took a variety of vacation jobs, including running events manager at Reykjavík's then two biggest clubs: Tunglið and Skuggabarinn. In the course of this, in 1991, he met Kristín Ólafsdóttir, now a film-maker; they married in 2010. They have three children, Daniel (b. 2005), Lorenz (b. 2009), and Bentina (b. 2011). They currently live primarily in London, United Kingdom.
Beverage businessman in Saint Petersburg
In 1991, Björgólfur Thor went to Russia along with his father and a friend, Magnús Þorsteinsson. The Icelandic businessmen, together with Russian partners, founded the bottling company Baltic Bottling Plant, which they sold to Pepsi. Next they founded a brewing company, originally called ООО "Торговый дом "РОСА" it was registered in March 1995 and changed its name to Bravo OOO in February 1996. It further changed its name to Bravo International OOO in August 1996 and Bravo International JSC in December 1997. The founders of Bravo were six companies registered in Limassol, Cyprus. Björgólfur Thor was president of all of them. Bravo Brewery became a success producing the premium beer Botchkarov. The company became the fastest-growing brewery in Russia. Heineken bought the brewery for $325m in 2002.
In 2000, Saint Petersburg opened an honorary consulate in Iceland. Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson was appointed Consul and Magnús Þorsteinsson was appointed Honorary Vice-Consul. The opening ceremony was held on March 10, 2000.
Björgólfur Thor's ventures in Russia raised suspicion. An article in The Guardian wondered where Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson's money came from and noted that in the 1990s the men "were not only ploughing money into the country but doing it in the city regarded as the Russian mafia capital. That investment was being made in the drinks sector, seen by the mafia as the industry of choice." Similar concerns were raised by Die Welt. Competitors in the Saint Petersburg brewing market faced problems. For instance, Ilya Weismann, deputy director of competing beverage company Baltic, was assassinated on 10 January 2000. Later Baltic director general Aslanbek Chochiev was also assassinated. One competing Saint Petersburg brewery burned to the ground.
Björgólfur Thor has strongly denied any connection with mafia activity. In his book, Billions to Bust and Back, he chronicles his time in St Petersburg, detailing how criminal elements tried to intimidate him into giving them access to his business and explaining which security measures he relied on to prevent it.
After leaving Russia, Björgólfur Thor started investing in several Icelandic firms in 2002. By 2006 he was a celebrity for his business success, being devoted an eight-page profile comprising a whole Sunday supplement of the Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið in that year.
Novator Partners, which was founded and is managed by Björgólfur Thor, is a private equity firm with headquarters in London and offices in Luxembourg. The company has bought assets around Eastern Europe. The company's owners are unknown.
Late in 2002, Björgólfur Thor and Björgólfur Guðmundsson's holding company Samson ehf. gained a 45% controlling share of Landsbanki, Iceland's second largest bank, for about ISK12m in a controversial privatization. The board was announced in February 2003, with the chairman being Björgólfur Thor's father. Landsbanki was declared to be acting contrary to the interests of the United Kingdom and placed on a watchlist usually used for the blocking of funds to terrorist organizations by the British government after bankruptcy in October 2008.
Straumur Investment Bank
Björgólfur Thor was the main owner as well as the chairman of the Straumur Investment Bank.
Two of Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson's companies, Landsbanki and Straumur, left the Icelandic people with several billions of dollars in debt when they went bankrupt following the 2008–11 Icelandic financial crisis. He has been heavily criticized for his actions leading to the crisis.
Two days after the publication of the Icelandic government report on the financial crisis on 12 April 2010, Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson issued a public apology for his role in the crisis in the Icelandic newspaper Fréttablaðið, including the statement:
- I the undersigned, Björgólfur Thor, request forgiveness from all Icelanders for my role in the asset- and debt-bubble that led to the collapse of the Icelandic banking system. I request your forgiveness for my complacency towards the danger signs which arose. I request forgiveness for having not succeeded in following my instincts when I realised the danger. I request your forgiveness.
Business after the crisis
Although Björgólfur Thor's fortunes were reduced by the financial crisis, leading him to cancel the construction of a £100m luxury yacht, he has continued to prosper overall. He has defended his reputation by disputing government and journalistic criticisms of his role in the 2008 financial crisis on his website, through letters to newspapers, and through legal action.
In December 2013, the website "The Automatic Earth" reported:
Mr Bjorgolfsson still leads Novator Partners, a London-based investment firm, sits on several boards and holds shares in companies including Actavis, a Swiss drugmaker, and CCP, an Icelandic computer games company. His representative says any dividends from his shares, or future gains from their sale, will go towards settling debts to creditors following Landsbanki's decline.
In 2015 Björgólfur Thor and his father were both mentioned in the Panama Papers as having connections to at least 50 offshore companies in tax havens established through Mossack Fonseca. According to Iceland Review Björgólfur sr. and jr. were the largest Icelandic investors mentioned in the Panama Papers.
In November 2017, Björgólfur Thor was named in the Paradise Papers together with Gísli Hjálmtýsson, Róbert Guðfinnsson, and a number of Iceland's National Power Company employees. The listed companies connected to Björgólfsson were registered in Bermuda.
Björgólfur Thor was one of the lead investors in Atai Life Sciences AG's 2018 funding rounds. Atai life is a healthcare investment firm that backs studies of magic mushrooms to treat depression. According to Bloomberg's report the round Björgólfur Thor participated in raised $25 million.
Appearances in popular culture
Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson is the inspiration for the main character of Bjarni Harðarson's satirical novel about the 2008–2011 Icelandic financial crisis, Sigurðar saga fóts: Íslensk riddarasaga, where his counterpart is the main character, Sigurður frits ('fótur') Bjarnhéðinsson. He is also the inspiration for the main character of Bjarni Bjarnason's novel Mannorð ('reputation'), Starkaður Leví, who pays for the identity (and the life) of a well respected writer.
Björgólfur Thor and his great-grandfather Thor Jensen are the subject of the 2011 documentary film Thors saga by Ulla Boje Rasmussen.
- Thor Björgólfsson profile on Forbes
- "Bjöggi úti á lífinu í Köben".
- "Bjöggi is back! – Snýr aftur á lista Forbes yfir ríkustu menn heims".
- "Bjöggi borgar ekki". Archived from the original on 4 December 2008.
- Thor Björgólfsson profile on Forbes [accessed 8 September 2017].
- https://www.ccpgames.com/news/2015/ccp-games-raises-30-million-to-bolster-virtual-reality-development-efforts/ CCP Games Press Release
- Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, The History of Iceland (Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2013), https://books.google.com/books?id=Elh1oH6ESSIC&
- Guðmundur Hálfdanarson, Historical Dictionary of Iceland, 2nd edn, Historical Dictionaries of Europe, 66 (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2008), p. 21 (s.v. BJÖRGÓLFSSON, BJÖGÓLFUR THOR (1967-- )).
- Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust and Back (London: Profile Books, 2014).
-  Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Guðmundur Magnússon, Thorsararnir: auður – völd – örlög (Reykjavík: Almenna bókafélagið, 2005), p. 354
- Peter Thorn - http://www.spildaftid.dk. "Upfront Films + 45 888 10 788". Upfrontfilms.dk. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
- Cf. Bjorgolfsson, Thor and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust—And Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, and What I Learned on the Way (London: Profile, 2014), esp. pp. 30-33.
- Jón G. Hauksson, 'Björgólfur Thor og Jón Tetzchner: Íslendingar eiga tvo leiðtoga í 237 manna hópi „Ungra leiðtoga" sem taka þátt í verkefninu Forum of Young Global Leaders', Frjáls verslun, 67.1 (2005), 16–22 (p. 18); ISSN 1017-3544.
- Armann Thorvaldsson, Frozen Assets: How I Lived Iceland's Boom and Bust (Chichester: Wiley, 2009), pp. 64-65.
- Roger Boyes, Meltdown Iceland: Lessons on the World Financial Crisis from a Small Bankrupt Island (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), pp. 64-66.
- Bjorgolfsson, Thor and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust—And Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, and What I Learned on the Way (London: Profile, 2014), pp. 24-34.
- E.g. Kroll, Luisa, 'Thor's Saga', Forbes Global, 8.5 (2005), 78.
- Bjorgolfsson, Thor and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust—And Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, and What I Learned on the Way (London: Profile, 2014), pp. 33-38.
- Bjorgolfsson, Thor and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust—And Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, and What I Learned on the Way (London: Profile, 2014), pp. 33-34.
- Guðmundur Hálfdanarson, Historical Dictionary of Iceland, 2nd edn, Historical Dictionaries of Europe, 66 (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2008), p. 21 (s.v. BJÖRGÓLFSSON, BJÖGÓLFUR THOR (1967-- )); Peter Lee, `Landsbanki's new masters take control', Euromoney, vol. 33 issue 403 (November 2002), pp. 34--47.
- Bjorgolfsson, Thor and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust—And Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, and What I Learned on the Way (London: Profile, 2014), pp. 37-38.
- "Kristín Ólafsdóttir".
- Bjorgolfsson, Thor and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust—And Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, and What I Learned on the Way (London: Profile, 2014), p. 217.
- "Where have all the billionaires gone?". IceNews: News from the Nordics. 16 June 2009.
- Smith, Yves (16 December 2013). "Ragnarok - Iceland and the "Doom of the Gods"". The Automatic Earth.
- Boyes, Roger (2009). Meltdown Iceland: Lessons on the World Financial Crisis from a Small Bankrupt Island. New York: Bloomsbury. p. 66.
- Kroll, Louisa (28 March 2005). "Thor's Saga". Forbes.
- Bjorgolfsson, Thor and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust—And Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, and What I Learned on the Way (London: Profile, 2014).
- "Who is Thor Bjorgolfsson, Iceland's lone billionaire?". Invest in Greece. 20 January 2006. (citing a maximum of $400m for the transaction).
- Griffiths, Ian (16 June 2005). "Next-generation Viking invasion - They've got the cash to buy big UK groups like M&S. But where does it come from?". London: The Guardian.
- Frank Stocker, 'Holprige Fahrt vom Balkan nach Europa', Die Welt, 08.01.06, https://www.welt.de/print-wams/article136961/Holprige-Fahrt-vom-Balkan-nach-Europa.html
- Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson and Andrew Cave, Billions to Bust and Back (London: Profile Books, 2014), pp. 55-65.
- "Company overview of Novator partners capital LLC".
- Simon Bowers and Sigrun Davidsdottir, 'Icelandic tycoon still living the high life in London after the collapse of Icesave', The Observer (28 August 2011), p. 35 (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2011/aug/27/iceland-tycoon-thor-high-life-icesave-collapse).
Pétur Blöndal, `Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson', Morgunblaðið (27 August 2006), B 1--8.
- Guðmundur Magnússon, Thorsararnir: auður – völd – örlög (Reykjavík: Almenna bókafélagið, 2005), p. 354; Questions over Landsbanki's new shareholder /Euromoney magazine
- "Online, Iceland News, Travel, Vacation, Culture, Hotels, Politics, Business". IcelandReview. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
- Guðmundur Magnússon, Thorsararnir: auður – völd – örlög (Reykjavík: Almenna bókafélagið, 2005), p. 354
- IceNews - Daily News. "Interview with Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson". Archived from the original on 30 December 2008. Retrieved 22 January 2009.
- Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, ‘Ég bið ykkur afsökunar’, Fréttablaðið 10.86 (14 April 2010), p. 19. Quoted from Guðbjörg Hildur Kolbeins, '...svo sem vér og fyrirgefum... Fyrirgefningin og hrunið', Þjóðarspegillinn: Rannsóknir í félagsvísindum, 12 (2011), 112-19 (p. 115), accessed from http://skemman.is/stream/get/1946/10259/25577/1/Rannsoknir_i_felagsvisindum_XII_Vidskiptafraedideild.pdf#page=120 Archived 11 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine 13 April 2012.
- Bjorgolfur Thor Bjorgolfsson, letter, The Observer 11 December 2011, p. 46; Simon Bowers and Sigrún Daviðsdóttir, 'Icelandic tycoon still living the high life in London after the collapse of Icesave', The Observer (28 August 2011), p. 35.
- Yves Smith, Yves Smith, 'Ragnarok - Iceland and the "Doom of the Gods" ', The Automatic Earth (16 December 2013), http://www.theautomaticearth.com/ragnarok-iceland-doom-gods-2/.
- Hafstað, Vala (2 June 2016). "Panama Papers Reveal Tortola Connections of Iceland's Richest Men". Iceland Review. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
- "Icelandic names in the Paradise Papers". Retrieved 11 November 2018.
- "Iceland's Richest Man Invests in Magic Mushrooms | Guide to Iceland Now". Guide to Iceland Now. 5 October 2018. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
- Selfoss: Sæmundur, 2010. See Alaric Hall, "Sigurðar saga fóts: Fourteenth-century Saga to Financial Crisis Satire", http://web.uvic.ca/~becktrus/guest_lects.php?sort=seqEng.
- Uppheimar, 2011. 'Rithöfundur og talsmaður deila um skáldsögu: „Mannorðskaup eru á hans áhugasviði" ', Pressan 12 December 2011, http://eyjan.pressan.is/frettir/2011/12/12/talsmadur-og-rithofundur-deila-um-skaldsogu-a-upplestri-mannordskaup-eru-a-hans-ahugasvidi/.
- Alaric Hall, 'Fornaldarsögur and Financial Crisis: Bjarni Bjarnason’s Mannorð', in The Legendary Legacy: Transmission and Reception of the 'Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. by Matthew Driscoll, Silvia Hufnagel, Philip Lavender and Beeke Stegmann, The Viking Collection, 24 (Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2018), pp. 351-75 (pp. 361-63).